Al Hunt: Republicans Face Tough Questions with Rise of Nonreligious

Source: Newsmax

Author: Al Hunt

Emphasis Mine

Don’t expect any official “Atheists for Hillary” outreach, but political progressives are cheered by a study showing a rise in the number of nonreligious Americans.

It’s not because top Democrats are irreligious; both President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are persons of faith. But liberals welcomed the findings of the 2014 Religious Landscape Study, released last week by the Pew Research Center, which showed a country growing less religious. Republicans consistently do well among voters with strong religious beliefs, and Democrats score better with voters who don’t express religious views.

The huge study — a 35,000-person sample — reveals that over the past seven years, there has been a 10 percent decline in self-identified Christians, though they still are more than 70 percent of the population. At the same time, the religiously nonaffiliated, or “nones,” have increased by about one-third and now account for about 23 percent of American adults.  This trend could have political implications. In the last presidential election, Mitt Romney easily won among Christian voters, and Obama carried 70 percent of the unaffiliated. This divide was even more apparent in the 2014 congressional elections.

Evangelical Protestants, the core of the Republican base since Ronald Reagan, have held steady over the past seven years, according to the study, though their share of the population has declined somewhat. In the last presidential and midterm elections, evangelicals made up more than a quarter of the electorate and voted Republican by a four-to-one ratio.

The number of Catholics also has declined slightly. They are about a quarter of the electorate and constitute a political swing group. White Catholics vote are more likely to be Republican, and their non-white counterparts are mainly Democrats.

The growth of the “nones” — designating “people who self- identify as atheists or agnostics, as well as those who say their religion is ‘nothing in particular,'” is most pronounced among younger Americans. More than a third of millennials– 18 to 33 year-olds — have no religious affiliation. This, experts say, probably is fueled by issues such as gay rights and racial tolerance. A quarter of whites are unaffiliated religiously, along with 20 percent of Hispanics and 18 percent of blacks.

There is a debate over the direct political effects.

“We have not yet felt the impact of the religiously unaffiliated at the ballot box,” said Robert P. Jones, chief executive officer of the Public Religion Research Institute. The “nones,” he said, register and vote less than committed Christians. But “there is untapped potential.”

David Campbell, a political scientist at the University of Notre Dame and co-author of “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us,” suggests the “nones” are becoming more active. He pointed to the recent backlash after Indiana and other states tried to remove barriers to discrimination against same-sex couples based on religious beliefs.

He believes that continuing efforts by conservative factions on gay rights and issues that they consider matters of religious freedom will galvanize the nonreligious.

“The single greatest mobilizing force for secularists is the religious right, especially among millennials,” Campbell said. Even at Notre Dame, the most famous U.S. Catholic institution, “there is almost no sympathy for the religious right’s traditionalist’s views.”

Political leaders of the evangelical movement don’t dispute Pew’s findings, but question the implications. They argue that the ascendancy of nonbelievers would energize their base on issues ranging from same-sex marriage to the “war on Christmas” and even, for some, mixed-religion marriage.

Moreover, they doubt the unaffiliated can coalesce behind any agenda.

“Secular voters are simply harder to organize because unbelief historically is not as animating in terms of political engagement as deeply held religious faith,” said Timothy Head, executive director of the conservative Faith and Freedom Coalition.

With two polarizing camps playing off each other, faith may become like Congress: dominated by the wings with little room in the middle.

See: http://www.newsmax.com/Newsfront/al-hunt-rise-of-nonreligious/2015/05/17/id/645118/?ns_mail_uid=29344713&ns_mail_job=1621185_05172015&s=al&dkt_nbr=1zh96az1

4 Ways Lawmakers Still Grovel to the Christian Right, Even As Right-Wing Religion Declines in America

From Bibles to school prayer, legislatures are signaling their religious stripes.

Source: AlterNet

Author: Evan McMurray

Emphasis Mine

The proportion of conservative Christians is declining in the U.S., yet right-wing lawmakers are flipping out. Legislatures everywhere are passing religious-minded bills likely to be struck down after costly legal battles, merely to prove their allegiance to the Christian right. From Bibles to vouchers to school prayer, here’s how they’re signaling their religious stripes, even as the electorate scurries away.

1. The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments has long been the fighting symbol of those who try to join state and religion—perhaps because its Old Testament roots makes it slightly more inclusive. The most public example is Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who was evicted from the bench in 2003 for refusing to remove his Ten Commandments display from his courtroom under federal court order. (Moore was recently reelected and is currently squaring off with the federal government over gay marriage.)

But some states tried to go further than Moore. Last month the Arkansas Senate did just that, passing a bill, almost unanimously, that would allow the state to officially erect Ten Commandments monument on government property. The bill claims the monument would be constitutional, but the funds it provides for legal defense suggest they’re not too sure about that.

By the way, don’t worry about the state elevating one faith over others. “The placement of the monument under this section shall not be construed to mean that the State of Arkansas favors any particular religion or denomination over others,” the bill states. The Arkansas House must now consider whether that’s believable or not. Given some of the other bills this Arkansas legislature has passed (see below), chances are likely they’ll love it.

Arkansas didn’t dream this up. In 2009, Oklahoma approved legislation calling for a Ten Commandments monument. The thing was built, which apparently angered the big guy downstairs: last year a man drove his car into the monument, telling authorities Satan ordered him to do it.

2. Prayer

As Kentucky’s attempt to get the Bible into classrooms demonstrated, schools often become the arena for religious pandering. And there’s no pandering like school prayer, which is perfectly constitutional as long as the state doesn’t endorse it — which, of course, is exactly what legislators want.

The most egregious example in recent years was Alabama’s 2014 bill requiring prayer in public schools. The bill set aside 15 minutes at the beginning of each school day to read aloud the prayers that open sessions of Congress. “If Congress can open with a prayer, and the state of Alabama Legislature can, I don’t see why schools can’t,” one legislator said. (The Establishment Clause is the answer to that one.)

The bill was so ridiculous the committee had to pass it with a contested voice vote while some of the committee members were absent.

School prayer bills are often struck down, largely because they protect a right already guaranteed by the Constitution in a manner that seems to entail the state endorsement of a particular religion. In response, lawmakers have located a crafty workaround: school religious anti-discrimination laws. The bills take as their impetus cases, often anecdotal, of students being told they can’t make god the subject of assignments. The bills ostensibly would protect students’ ability to make explicitly religious material their subject matter.

Or so they claim. But critics argue the bills are simply school prayer mandates in disguise, and those who sponsor them don’t exactly dissuade anybody from that theory.

“There’s a lot of hostility or animosity towards Christianity when we know our nation was founded on Judeo-Christian values,” one Alabama Republican said. “This is not preference to any particular religion, but students will be able to freely express their religious viewpoints in artwork and course work and then at school, if the SGA president has the microphone or the valedictorian, and they want to pray, student initiated prayer is 100 percent guaranteed by the Constitution.”

These bills have been popping up in Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, and other states. For continuity’s sake, the bill’s sponsor in Alabama has previously tried to get a Ten Commandments monument erected on state grounds; in the event that his prayer bill passes and is legally challenged, which seems almost certain, Roy Moore has promised to defend it free of charge.

3. Vouchers

Another backend way to intertwine religion and schooling is to reverse the process: rather than force religion onto students, export students into religion. That’s been the path of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who’s overseen a massive voucher program, essentially privatizing—and pietizing—his state’s education system.

Many of the private schools endorsed under the program would effectively be delivering religious education (read: creationism) paid for by Louisiana taxpayer funds. This most famously includes the textbook teaching that the Loch Ness monster is a) real; b) a dinosaur; and c) co-existed with humans, thus proving the creationist math that the world is only several thousand years old.

Thus the voucher program was revealed to be not about improving education or guaranteeing religious liberty, but the state endorsement of Christian teachings.

4. Religious Freedom Bills

Thanks to the unexpected pushback against Indiana’s so-called religious freedom bill last month, which caught everybody, especially Indiana Governor Mike Pence, by surprise, religious freedom restoration acts are now the subject of public scrutiny.

It was almost too late. The federal RFRA was signed into law in 1993 by then-President Bill Clinton, in response to a Supreme Court decision leaving religious minorities vulnerable to federal laws. The RFRA was an example of Clinton’s patented triangulation, which also gave us the Defense of Marriage Act and don’t ask, don’t tell, though this one has been arguably less damaging.

Because the law only covered federal policy, states have slowly enacted their own RFRAs over the past 20 years, and unlike the other laws on this list, there was nothing particularly conservative or pandering about them: one of the first examples was passed in Connecticut, not exactly Alabama.

But in recent years the RFRAs have gotten nastier (see Kansas) as right-wing lawmakers have realized that “religious freedom” laws could be used as cover for discrimination against gays and lesbians. The salutary spread of gay marriage legalization created a new space of conflicts—the wedding business—and gave legislators all the inspiration they needed to come screaming to the defense of what they call religious persecution.

When the RFRAs pass in states that don’t have anti-discrimination protections for gays and lesbians (as, for instance, Connecticut does), they become effectively weaponized. For instance, earlier this year in Michigan the state considered a bill that would allow doctors and EMTs to refuse to treat gay patients over religious objections.

The bills are so egregious that criticism, largely from the business community, forced the legislatures of Indiana and Arkansas to scramble for a fix. Indiana lacked (and refused to provide) protections for LGBT citizens; Arkansas had gone further and passed a state law superseding city ordinances protecting gays and lesbians. Both ended up explicitly stating that the bills could not be used to discriminate against LGBT citizens, getting close to providing gays and lesbians with more protections than before the bills were passed.

Not learning the lesson, Louisiana is still considering a similar bill that would allow someone in the wedding industry carte blanche to refuse service to gay couples. IBM is now warning the state to make similar changes to the bill as Arkansas and Indiana did, or risk losing business and investment—which, as you could probably tell from the desperation over its school system, is all the state has going for it.

Evan McMurry is a political editor at Mediaite, interviews editor at Newfound: An Inquiry of Place, a regular reviewer at Bookslut, and the founding editor of A Flea In The Fur of the Beast. Find him on Twitter or contact him at evanmcmurry@yahoo.com.

 

See: http://www.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/4-ways-lawmakers-still-grovel-christian-right-even-right-wing-religion-declines?akid=13030.123424.v6kLP6&rd=1&src=newsletter1035255&t=3

Why The Ongoing RFRA Battle Is About Far More Than Wedding Cakes

Source: ReligionDispatches

Author: Sarah Posner

Emphasis Mine

Now that both Indiana and Arkansas have enacted their Religious Freedom Restorations Acts, with each altered in response to an unprecedented and swift-moving opposition, it’s worth taking a look at what the landscape looks like going forward.

First, laws designed to provide a defense to businesses who refuse to serve LGBT couples, or who refuse to cater or photograph same-sex weddings, are not popular. One poll, from the Public Religion Research Institute, found that just 16% of respondents supported such laws. Jeb Bush, who had initially defended Indiana Governor Mike Pence and the RFRA that caused the vociferous backlash (albeit with little apparent understanding of how RFRAs function in the legal system), later said he would have preferred a “consensus-oriented” approach to a law that would not allow discrimination against LGBT people.

The Indiana fix–adding language that the law couldn’t be used to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation–addressed the major issue that had generated the backlash. But its still legal under Indiana law to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation, even though some municipalities in the state bar it. The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said in a statement, “we still don’t believe these nondiscrimination provisions go far enough.”

But there are legitimate concerns beyond how these new RFRAs could be used to treat LGBT people. As the American Civil Liberties Union has said, while the new provision in the Indiana RFRA is a “major improvement, ” the law as now enacted “still poses a risk that it can be used to deny rights to others, including in education, access to health care, and other aspects of people’s lives.” Although the new law’s religious freedom claims and defenses are no longer available to for-profit entities, they still are available to non-profit entities who can invoke its provisions to raise religious objections to providing service.

While Indiana lawmakers supporting the RFRA were, as documented in this well-reported piece in the Indianapolis Star, motivated to provide legal protections to businesses that refuse to provide services to same-sex couples or for same-sex weddings, other comments by lawmakers show their intent was broader. Republican Rep. Bruce Borders suggested anesthesiologists who oppose abortion should not have to anesthetize women undergoing the procedure. The Indianapolis Star reported that “Borders said he believes the Bible’s command to ‘do all things as unto the Lord’ means religious believers need to be protected not just in church, but in their workplaces as well.” If that workplace is a religious non-profit, like a hospital or university, the new language appears to give those entities the right to assert a religious exemption if they object to the services required for a particular patient or person.

In Arkansas, by contrast, the law was changed to ensure that it could only be invoked in cases in which the government is a party, just as in the federal version.

Proponents of these new RFRAs have continually argued that the federal RFRA, enacted in 1993, had widespread and bipartisan support. They frequently ask why those who supported RFRA’s passage in 1993 now protest the new RFRAs go too far.

The answer lies in how the courts have interpreted the federal RFRA. At the time, it looked like a needed fix to protect individuals who, for example, were barred from receiving employment compensation after being fired for smoking peyote, an essential part of a Native American ritual. In 20 years, though, it has been expanded, in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, to confer rights on closely-held corporations seeking to deny their female employees the benefit of no-cost insurance coverage for birth control.

The debate on these laws is far from over. While the focus over the past week has been on their impact on LGBT people, Supreme Court precedent points to a wider reach. The innovation, if you will, of Hobby Lobby was not just allowing a closely-held corporation to invoke religious freedom rights. It was how the Court assessed, in favor of the corporation, the impact of religious freedom claims on third parties generally.

 

See:http://religiondispatches.org/why-the-ongoing-rfra-battle-is-about-far-more-than-wedding-cakes/?utm_source=Religion+Dispatches+Newsletter&utm_campaign=273da07227-RD_Daily_Newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_742d86f519-273da07227-42427517

Faithless

The uproars around Indiana’s new law and Scientology’s alleged abuses show how poorly we understand religious freedom

Source: Tablet

Author: Liel Leibovitz

Emphasis Mine

Just in time for Passover, that perennial blockbuster about a persecuted people struggling to free itself from the house of bondage, our hunger for sensational stories of religious intolerance was sated this week by a double serving of men of faith behaving badly. In Indiana, a state law designed to safeguard religious freedoms stirred controversy, with everyone from Hillary Clinton to Miley Cyrus crying out that the legislation is little more than a thinly veiled attempt to allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT customers. And on HBO, a new documentary about Scientology presented the Creed of Cruise as a sinister, violent cult designed to prey on the weak of heart and mind, a cabal of conspirators that has thrived largely due to its ability to muscle the authorities into exempting it from taxation. Spend too much time breathing in the fumes of the Internet outrage machine, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that we still had Pharaohs among us, mighty, imperious and bent on imposing their will on those yearning to be free.

Reality, thankfully, is far airier. Everywhere from Bloomington to Beverly Hills, our freedoms are doing just fine. The only thing that’s plagued is our religious imagination, that empathic quality necessary for envisioning a role for faith in public life. And that’s a big problem.

Consider the case of Indiana. The state’s law is a version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which that bearded zealot Bill Clinton signed into law in 1993 after it enjoyed the support of all but three members of the Senate. Indiana is the 20th state to pass a local version of the RFRA, as the act is commonly known, into law; it was preceded by hotbeds of religious extremism like Connecticut and Rhode Island. No one cared then; why should we care now?

Because, said the law’s opponents, Indiana’s version of RFRA extended religious protections to private disputes as well, which means, say, that if a pious pastry chef in Terre Haute is commissioned to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, he could refuse on the grounds that his faith prohibits blessing gays with buttercream icing. To safeguard against such an alarming scenario, the state legislature, after much pressure, amended the law to exclude protections to anyone refusing “to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing” to anyone based on “race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service.”

It’s a soothing clarification, but one that may not have been altogether necessary. Under RFRA, anyone seeking protection on religious grounds has to prove that his or her core beliefs have been compromised. A Christian could compellingly argue, for example, that providing his employees with access to the morning-after pill stands in fundamental contradiction to his beliefs; this is what David Green, the owner of the Hobby Lobby chain of DIY stores, did in his now-famous—and successful—lawsuit. But search Corinthians as diligently as you will and you’re still not likely to find anything that might keep a florist from arranging a bouquet of peonies for two women who wish to exercise their state-given right and get married.

This isn’t to say that the original law’s purpose wasn’t to give weight to religious considerations when faced with other competing interests; writing in The Wall Street Journal, Indiana’s Gov. Mike Pence stated clearly that the law’s passage was influenced by the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling. Nor is it to say that no business would ever use the new law—even with the existing amendment in place—to try and discriminate against customers, and some critics argue that the language of the Indiana law—covering religious freedoms that are “likely to be” compromised—is too vague. Still, federal and state public accommodations laws are likely to prove a major hurdle to any future attempts to invoke RFRA as a reason to refuse someone service, which may help explain why, in three decades of federal and state laws, such attempts have been without precedent. More important, any business practicing discrimination will face the ultimate arbiter, the market: In his op-ed, Gov. Pence wrote that he would never frequent a business that refused to serve gay customers, and it’s highly likely that many, many others, in Indiana and elsewhere, would feel the same way.

And yet, many wagged their fingers at Indiana this week, including the presumed Democratic presidential candidate, who came out publicly in support of gay marriage long years after so many of us took to the streets to march for this fundamental civil right. “Sad this new Indiana law can happen in America today,” Hillary Clinton tweeted. “We shouldn’t discriminate against ppl bc of who they love #LGBT.” That the law has nothing to do with love, and that it is far, at least for anyone with a dollop of intellectual honesty, from a clear act of discrimination against the LGBT community was beside the point.

Why, then, the uproar? You may want to look for clues in Alex Gibney’s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. The well-made film is a real-life thriller, and if you want to know whodunit you needn’t look further than its subtitle. The movie’s larger point isn’t that Scientology is particularly pernicious—although it goes to great lengths to portray its leader, David Miscavige, as a tiny, tanned tyrant—but rather that all faith is or may become so, what with its being so absolute and all. Scott Foundas, Variety’s chief film critic, reflected the same sentiment when he called Going Clear “a great film about the dangers of blind “faith”.

It’s a strange point to make about a film whose most prominent interviewees are longtime adherents of the faith who have chosen to leave the church. In lengthy, candid confessions, these men and women, even the ones with the biggest axes to grind, describe decades of faith that was anything but blind. They talk about feeling baffled by rituals, confused by the religion’s secret dogma, and put off by some of its more demanding practices. In other words, they sound exactly like every other current or former believer in America, struggling to balance the hawkish skepticism of modern life with the radical receptivity every religion requires as a precondition. Watching the documentary, you suspect that the only reason these lapsed believers are dramatically lit and seated in front of a camera is that their particular faith happens to have a relatively brief history; its foundational myths still haven’t hardened into gospel, and its originators have not yet transcended into sainthood.

You could subject any Mormon to allegations of a Founding Father suspected of charlatanism, accost any Catholic with tough questions about excommunication, and question any Jew about believing in a book filled with improbable miraculous stories. If Scientology seems strange to us, it’s because it’s still a religion busy being born, embryonic and turbulent and closely connected to its charismatic founding fathers. In this, it’s no different from any other religion, and like any other religion, it, too, should face scrutiny from outside observers wondering what it’s all about. And if it is indeed a major world religion destined to thrive millennia from now, such scrutiny will only make it stronger by forcing it to clearly define its practices and beliefs.

But any scrutiny ought also to be purposeful and respectful, not dismissive, and it should attempt to weigh Scientology on the same scale we use to take the measure of all other religions. The Scientological story about the evil galactic overlord Xenu and his atomic bombs—which the film presents as one of its most damning pieces of evidence against the religion—is not any more or less incredible than the tale of the Red Sea splitting in half or that bit about Moses summoning a downpour of frogs or any wonderful story about Jesus. Incredible stories are an indispensable part of religion; they challenge us to push past our reservations and into different planes of consciousness. Believers understand this, which is why even those of us who accept these tall tales process them first and foremost as metaphor. I can believe that my soul was physically present at Sinai and still read the story of the Exodus not as pure history but as a narrative designed to inspire me to contemplate liberty, justice, and oppression. And I can do all that while remaining committed to the standards of rational inquiry in other realms of life that do not involve the metaphysical. Faith does not turn its adherents blind; instead, it allows them to entertain several seemingly incompatible ideas, urging them to strike a balance between what they are willing to embrace a priori and what they demand to see empirically proven. This complexity is one of faith’s chief pleasures, but you wouldn’t know it from listening to those who can only imagine it as a prison.

Which brings us back to Indiana. Those alarmed over its RFRA legislation are vexed in part because they assume the worst about the men and women most likely to claim religious protection these days. In its editorial about the Indiana law, the New York Times was frank in admitting that the fault lies not in the law’s logic but in its likely champions: “Religious-freedom laws,” the Times wrote, “which were originally intended to protect religious minorities from burdensome laws or regulations, have become increasingly invoked by conservative Christian groups.” When you cannot imagine the faithful as anything but mindless boobs more likely to respond to coercion and hate than to reason, you’re likely to see the question of religious freedom not as an absolute good worthy of protection no matter who its benefactors but as just one component of a practical political worldview, colored by other considerations. This is why the Times—as well as many, one suspects, of those crying foul over the Indiana law—is willing to accuse local conservative legislators of harboring the most benighted schemes while simultaneously cheering on talks with the murderous theocracy in Iran. When professed in Indianapolis by domestic political opponents, religion is a tool of oppression. When expressed in Isfahan with calls of “Death to America,” it’s just a quaint cultural affectation.

It’s time we rejected this lazy relativism. Luckily, we’ve the perfect story of universal religious freedom coming our way this weekend at the Seder. May it, and the four mandatory glasses of wine required for its proper telling, leave us all a bit more imbued with divinely inspired empathy, imagination, and joy.

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

See: http://tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/190030/faithless?utm_source=tabletmagazinelist&utm_campaign=4aa9285a62-Monday_April_6_20154_6_2015&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c308bf8edb-4aa9285a62-206691737

The Hobby Lobby Errors, Part 4, An Exception Becomes Constitutional Religious Doctrine

Source: The Pen

Where we last left our wayward Supreme Court opinion writer, Alito
was using the Dictionary Act (a law) to justify a de facto
constitutional amendment (declaring all corporations to have the
rights of real people).

In response we heard from a number of right wing operatives,
protesting, “No, no, no, this is just about interpreting one law (the
so-called Religious Freedom Protection Act or RFPA), not about laying
down a broader constitutional doctrine.”

Horseradish . . . or maybe it’s bull radish.

On page 18 of the decision, Alito clearly embraces with both arms the
principle of “protecting the free-exercise (of religion) rights of
corporations.” Whoa, horsey. Stop it right there.

Corporations have NO such rights. What Alito has done here is argue
his case using his preordained conclusion as the sole evidence.
Anyone who thinks that Alito will not cite HIMSELF in his next
opinion, saying “In Hobby Lobby we found the corporations have this
constitutional right, and to be consistent with that we must now also
. . . ,” is a fool. We already told you the current rogue 5 member
majority is contriving a multi-decision chain of precedents here.

What the RFPA in fact does is create an exemption for an “eligible
organization” DEFINED as one that “holds itself out as a religious
organization,” which is to say one with that primary objective. Did
everyone just catch that fact that the RFPA goes out of its way to
articulate a much more LIMITED definition of “organization” than all
business entities of any kind?

As we pointed out last time, Alito’s bogus Dictionary Act argument
was that anytime “person” is used it must also include all manner of
corporations, even to the point of how to read the Constitution. His
argument is that all business entities are constitutionally equivalent

not only with each other, but with real people as well.

So what Alito has done here is blatantly disregard the limited
definition Congress intended, for dedicated religious organizations,
which Hobby Lobby clearly is not, and rule that the exemption must
also now extend more broadly to other business organizations not so
narrowly defined, if only their owners claim to have their own
personal religious beliefs. In short, either you’re a church or else
you are not.

To put it another way, even if you assume that Alito’s definitional
argument had any constitutional validity at all, the definition of
“eligible organization” in the Religious Freedom Protection Act
SUPERSEDES the broader definition in the Dictionary Act. He has
converted an expressly limited exemption into a wholly unintended
constitutional upheaval. Again, Alito cannot even properly read a law
as it defines itself, let alone be trusted to unilaterally amend the
constitution by judicial fiat.

Emphasis Mine

Will Electioneering From the Pulpit Be the Next Big Battle Over ‘Religious Liberty’?

Most at stake isn’t the freedom to worship or speak out, but eligibility for tax subsidies that are estimated to cost the government over $80 billion in revenues every year.

Source: American Prospect

Author: Joshua Holland

On July 17, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) settled a longstanding suit against the IRS for failing to enforce restrictions on political activities by tax-exempt churches and religious organizations.

Since 1954, tax-exempt religious organizations have been barred from endorsing parties or candidates. FFRF filed its 2012 complaint in response to conservative preachers openly defying those restrictions. Since 2008, a growing number of clerics have participated in “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” offering partisan endorsements during services. As ABC News reported in 2010, “The growing trend is a challenge to the IRS from the churches, and may jeopardize their all-important tax-exempt status. But some pastors and church leaders said they are willing to defy the law to defend their right to freedom of speech.”

Most at stake isn’t the freedom to worship or speak out, but eligibility for tax subsidies that are estimated to cost the government over $80 billion in revenues every year. As Dylan Matthews explained in The Washington Post, “Churches don’t pay property taxes on their land or buildings. When they buy stuff, they don’t pay sales taxes. When they sell stuff at a profit, they don’t pay capital gains tax. If they spend less than they take in, they don’t pay corporate income taxes. Priests, ministers, rabbis and the like get ‘parsonage exemptions’ that let them deduct mortgage payments, rent and other living expenses when they’re doing their income taxes. They also are the only group allowed to opt out of Social Security taxes (and benefits).”

According to the FFRF, the IRS “admittedly was not enforcing the restrictions against churches. A prior lawsuit in 2009 required the IRS to designate an appropriate high-ranking official to initiate church tax examinations, but it had apparently failed to do so.” The settlement reached earlier this month is, at least for now, only a symbolic victory for the organization. The IRS has enacted a moratorium on examining tax exempt organizations’ political activities in the wake of the controversy over the agency’s applying extra scrutiny to conservative and liberal “social welfare” organizations.

Nonetheless, as a result of the settlement, the IRS is instituting new protocols “for reviewing, evaluating and determining whether to initiate church investigations.”

Intervening in the case on behalf of Patrick Malone, a priest and vicar of Holy Cross Anglican Church in Wisconsin, was the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The Becket Fund has gained prominence for its work challenging the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate on behalf of Hobby Lobby, and its involvement pushing “religious liberty” exemptions to anti-discrimination laws.

Emphasis Mine

See: http://prospect.org/article/will-electioneering-pulpit-be-next-big-battle-over-%E2%80%98religious-liberty%E2%80%99

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Was Right, and We Already Have Proof

Source: The Nation

Author: Zoe Carpenter

Among the many questions raised by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby is how sweeping its legacy will be. Supporters of the decision have insisted that the ruling is “narrow,” as it explicitly addresses “closely held” corporations objecting to four specific types of birth control—including IUDs and Plan B—because the business’ owners consider them (inaccurately) to cause abortion. Besides, the Court argued, the government can just fill any coverage gaps itself, and it’s only women whom corporations are now permitted to discriminate against. “Our decision in these cases is concerned solely with the contraceptive mandate,” claimed Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority. “Our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance-coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employers’ religious beliefs.”

Bullshit, is essentially what Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had to say about the majority’s claim to have issued a limited ruling. In her dissent, Ginsburg deemed it “a decision of startling breadth.” She noted that “‘closely held’ is not synonymous with ‘small’,” citing corporations like Cargill, which employs 140,000 workers. Even more alarming is the majority’s endorsement of the idea that corporations can hold religious beliefs that warrant protection under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

In fact, it only took a day for the Court’s “narrow” decision to start to crack open. On Tuesday, the Court indicated that its ruling applies to for-profit employers who object to all twenty forms of birth control included in the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate, not just the four methods at issue in the two cases decided on Monday.

In light of its ruling on Hobby Lobby and a related suit, the Supreme Court ordered three appeals courts to reconsider cases in which they had rejected challenges from corporations that object to providing insurance that covers any contraceptive services at all. The plaintiffs in all three cases are Catholics who own businesses in the Midwest, including Michigan-based organic food company Eden Foods. Meanwhile, the High Court declined to review petitions from the government seeking to overturn lower court rulings that upheld religiously based challenges to all preventative services under the mandate.

It’s bad enough that the Court privileged the belief that IUDs and emergency contraceptives induce abortion over the scientific evidence that clearly says otherwise. With Tuesday’s orders, the conservative majority has effectively endorsed the idea that religious objections to insurance that covers any form of preventative healthcare for women have merit. This development is not surprising, as it’s the logical extension of the premise that the intangible legal entities we call corporations have religious rights. That’s a ridiculous idea, certainly, but not a narrow one—no matter Alito’s assurance that he intends it to be used only to justify discrimination against women.

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The cases that must now be reopened aren’t even based on junk science, just general pious resistance to women’s health services. And at least one of those cases is only tenuously about religious freedom. “I don’t care if the federal government is telling me to buy my employees Jack Daniel’s or birth control,” Michael Potter, the founder of Eden Foods told Irin Carmon. “What gives them the right to tell me that I have to do that? That’s my issue, that’s what I object to, and that’s the beginning and end of the story.” As one judge wrote, “Potter’s ‘deeply held religious beliefs’ more resembled a laissez-faire, anti-government screed.”

The hole that the Supreme Court tore in the contraceptive mandate can be repaired with a tailored fix, most likely by the Obama administration extending the same accommodation it offered nonprofit religious groups to women working for the closely held for-profit corporations implicated in the Hobby Lobby ruling. Under that work-around, insurance companies themselves—or, in some cases, the federal government—will pick up the tab for female employees’ contraception coverage when their employer opts out.

More vexing is the extension of the RFRA to corporations. Business owners now have a new basis for trying to evade anti-discrimination laws and their responsibilities to their employees. Religious liberty is already the rallying cry for conservatives looking for a legal way to discriminate against LGBT Americans; other business owners have tried to use religion to justify opposition to minimum-wage laws and Social Security taxes. Faith groups are already trying to capitalize on the Hobby Lobby decision out of court; on Wednesday, a group of religious leaders asked the Obama administration for an exemption from a forthcoming federal order barring federal contractors from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

According to Alito, courts have no authority to “tell the plaintiffs that their beliefs are flawed.” Where, then, are the boundaries? How will courts decide which beliefs are “sincerely held?” Alito asserts that the majority opinion provides “no such shield” for other forms of discrimination, but we have to take his word on it. The language of the ruling may be limited to contraception, but there are no explicit constraints on its underlying logic.

 

Read Next: Katha Pollitt asks, Where Will the Slippery Slope of ‘Hobby Lobby’ End?

Emphasis Mine

See:http://www.thenation.com/blog/180509/supreme-court-has-already-expanded-its-narrow-hobby-lobby-ruling?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_term=email_nation&utm_campaign=Email%20Nation%20%28NEW%29%20-%20Headline%20Nation%20Feed%2020140703&newsletter=email_nation#